[by Earl Blacklock] A.J. Cronin was a physician and one of England’s most successful novelists. His most famous work is the 1937 book The Citadel, which provides an insider’s view of the problems found in the hidebound British medical profession.
Cronin regularly crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner. On one such voyage he began to notice a fellow passenger gazing at him intently. It was clear the man wanted to approach him, but he seemed too shy to do so.
Finally, as the crossing neared completion, the man’s wife compelled him to introduce himself. He was a solicitor who had been to the U.S. to study methods used to deal with youth we would now call “at-risk”. For the past 15 years, in addition to his law practice, he and his wife had been leading an organization that reached out to British youth in trouble with the law. They provided the young people a healthy environment, counseling, and job training to give them a fresh start in the world.
Cronin liked the couple instinctively. He asked how their lives had ended up in such a worthy work. Then the man told his story.
He was an orphan whose uncle had obtained him a position as a clerk in a law office. He ended up in bad company and soon developed a gambling problem. He bet away his small savings and now owed the bookmaker more than he thought he could ever repay. To try to recoup his losses, he had stolen money from the office safe, and he lost that too. Finally, despondent and fearful of the prosecution that would certainly follow, he went into his room, turned on the gas, and waited for death.
It was not to be. The man’s landlady discovered him and called the police. They in turn knocked at the door of a doctor who ran to the scene and determined that there was still hope. For more than an hour he laboured, but resuscitation efforts seemed futile.
Just as he was about to give up, the man gasped for air. Another half an hour, the young man was sitting up. Encouraged to tell what drove him to such a desperate act, he told the doctor and the waiting police sergeant about his theft and what had driven him to it.
How much was stolen, the Sergeant asked. Seven pounds ten shillings was the reply (about $300 in today’s dollars). Together, the doctor, the Sergeant, and the landlady resolved to make up the amount to give the young man a fresh start.
That is why the man, so many years later, had wanted to approach Cronin, the doctor who had believed in him and started him on his way to a new life.
There is a well-loved hymn that contains these words:
Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.
Because a young Dr. Cronin was generous in heart, hundreds of British youth were saved from a life of trouble.